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Rabbi Emeritus Geoff Basik

Rabbi Geoff's Trip to the Memorial for the
Most Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu
To view a video of the actual Memorial Service for the Most Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Rabbi Basik participated in click here.
I have come to know something I hadn’t before. I mean, know in a larger sense than mere cognition. For most of my years I have thought about the “Glory of God,” in accordance with my habit of being in my head — how interesting this word “kavod” (glory, honor, even abun-dance) is, how many nuances one can glean from the root K-B-D, what (intellectual) meaning we can make of it. It was an object of study and thinking, something to puzzle over and try to understand, but not really part of my religious language or spirituality. But the “Glory of God” is an experience! Full bodied and filling, fully alive in all our potential. Uplift and transcendence. I have occasionally tasted such a thing, but I called it “awe.” Awe is, well…awesome, but the ka-vod of God is what awe points to, or what’s behind it. It’s the reason for the awesomeness. Let me share with you my recent felt encounter with the “Glory of God.”
As soon as I received the request, through a text message from my friend and colleague, Chris Tang, who is the Rector of The Church of the Holy Comforter Episcopal church, to offer a Jewish prayer at the Memorial for the Most Reverend Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Cathedral of the Church of St. John the Divine in New York, I felt it. Whoosh! I felt it. By invoking the memory of Tutu, by the opportunity to honor this heroic figure of our time, I was taken with the actual presence of Godliness (yes, I’m still a Reconstructionist). Call it “inspiration,” perhaps. But more than that. It was a felt Pres-ence. It was another dimension of life. Right there, as I was waiting to pick up my grandson at school!
I thought to myself, “So this is what ‘May his/her memory be for a blessing’ means.” This opportunity to call to mind and honor such a person as Archbishop Tutu filled me with the mes-sages of Truth and Reconciliation, Love…and of course, Tutu’s endearing and infectious smile and laughter and compassion. For Desmond Tutu was so much bigger than his particularity; he manifested the larger vision of humanity connected to Godliness. He brought Godliness to us, and he was bringing me to Godliness.
Despite — or maybe even because of — the refusal of other rabbis, I wanted to step up and participate. In some Jewish quarters Tutu is not totally appreciated because of his views on Israel’s political and military and legal regime, which he long ago likened to “apartheid,” and his opposition to the wall. To my way of thinking, we have much soul-searching to do as we face this shadow. (And face it we must.) Nor am I afraid for my job. I stand with Tutu and Torah principles.
[By the way, in his sermon at the Memorial service, the amazing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry had Jesus looking into the Torah (yes, he used that word!) for his answers and teachings. For, in Curry’s words, “life with God.”]
So in my “retirement” (though not inactivity, and certainly not done with my rabbi-ing), I found myself among the representatives of different faiths, garbed in my kippah and tallit, sing-ing “El maleh rachamim” (“God full of mercy…”), commending Tutu’s spirit to the embrace of God at the awe-inspiring Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It blows my mind just thinking about it: little old me (both literally and figuratively) filling the largest Gothic cathedral in the country with Hebrew chant. There was much speechifying — by the South African ambassador, the president of the UN General Assembly, former Representative Charlie Rangel, and several high-ranking bishops and other dignitaries. And there was a beautiful choir. And I was there, standing on the shoulders of those in our movement who shaped me.
The cathedral itself is awesome, a wonder, something to behold. But the interfaith
gath-ering to invoke the memory and honor of Archbishop Tutu was a “glory” moment. We can be Israelites, basking in the kavod of God, as in Exodus 16.
Wed, February 8 2023 17 Shevat 5783